The growth of breweries on the Sunshine Coast is supporting ancillary industries which are still doing it tough according to Josh Donohoe, founder of Creative Tours.
The tour operator, which runs Sunshine Coast Craft Beer Tours, celebrated its fifth year in business this week, and Donohoe said that while many breweries have been booming, times have inevitably been tough for associated tourist and hospitality industries.
“We had a shocking 12 months like most industries. We found a way to bounce back at Christmas, but it’s been up and down since then, although this year will be better than expected – it was looking horrendous,” Donohoe admitted, even though like many breweries, Sunshine Coast Craft Beer Tours pivoted to online.
“We had another kick with the Victoria lockdowns because we had to refund people that were going to come up.
“Things aren’t great but they’re ok, government assistance and fine-tuning how we operate are still important to make sure business is profitable.”
But there are some new things in the industry that hospitality and tourism operators are having to adapt to quickly.
“There are a few things that have changed, there’s competition floating around now, but that’s part of business. The way people are booking and when they’re booking has changed.”
Booking well in advance and shorter holidays seem to be the ‘new normal’ Donohoe said, which will affect how venues and tourism businesses operate on a fundamental level.
“The consumer is just working with that they’ve got, but they are limited in what they can do,” he reasoned.
“Every hotel is fully booked on Friday and Saturday, and Saturdays are so intense for us, we have six tours running this week, for example, so we have to hire vehicles, get casual staff – if I could spread those out over a few more days, the cost would be lower. It’s an expensive way to do business.
“But we just have to be flexible to adapt to that. You either adapt and do it or say you can’t do it. You’re asking them to change the way they holiday, so trying to be flexible to that is key. But truthfully I’m exhausted – it’s been a whirlwind!”
One question Donohoe gets regularly is about whether the Sunshine Coast has reached saturation point with breweries, and you could be forgiven for wondering the same.
In recent months, Brouhaha has identified a new site for a venue and expanded production facility, Moffat Beach Brewery has opened its inland brewery and Your Mates Brewing Co. announced plans for a secondary site.
Donohoe suggests this is down to many factors, including a strong loyal following.
“During and post-COVID we talked about buying local, shop local, and it’s great that that’s been magnified, but that was already happening on the Sunshine Coast. If you want a sign made, for instance, they look for a local business first, as opposed to getting the cheapest option online and getting it shipped in.
“There’s a huge support for local and people rallying around their local brewery, which is not uncommon, but here they pick one and support them through thick and thin.”
It helps that there is such a diverse array of brewery businesses, he said.
“They’re all very different breweries and models. Most don’t need or want to make 1 million litres, they might have a food truck option and only open 3-4 days a week.
“They are working towards their own business model and how much they need to make.”
That being said, new entrants to the market will have a harder time.
“If there was to be another brewery, they’d be bold and they’d have to do something really different.”
However with breweries such as Stone & Wood and Gage Roads said to be looking at new locations, a major player coming in would certainly rock the boat.
“The Sunshine Coast is growing in every facet, it can sustain things like that. But it would be interesting to see the support they would get.”
Venues, Donohoe said, are taking off on the Sunshine Coast, but adding more volume to the region’s brewery capacity is another thing altogether.
“Volume is where the sticking point is, by growing they are putting themselves in the bigger market. They’ll be flooding the market on a bigger scale and that will be when we reach the tipping point.
“Because [the growth of Sunshine Coast breweries] happened so quickly, people haven’t been up here and their beer hasn’t left South East Queensland, now it is and it’s popping up elsewhere, people are asking, ‘what’s going on up there?’ Until they get up here they won’t grasp the scale that it’s at.
“It won’t be long until people realise there are bigger breweries here than they thought.”
How times have changed
Having been in the region for a number of years, Donohoe has seen the growth of the brewing industry there from a birdseye view.
“When I moved up here from Sydney six years ago there was one brewery, the Sunshine Coast Brewery. The Sunshine Coast ticked every box possible except breweries because I’d moved from Newtown.”
Then Moffat Beach and 10 Toes joined the next generation of breweries.
“They both had great beer, I was stoked there were two new breweries with great products, and Brouhaha wasn’t far after.”
Initially, demographics for Sunshine Coast Craft Beer Tours attendees were largely locals who had no idea there were breweries in their backyard and the occasional craft beer fan. 90 per cent were male, said Donohoe.
But innovations from the brewers themselves and wider changes in the industry when it came to style and target demographics helped diversify this.
“New beer styles helped change that demographic,” he explained.
“By doing that and offering those sour and lager styles, brewers helped us and gave us a product to talk to, explaining that beer could be all these amazing flavours. If they hadn’t done it or done it poorly it might not have been as much of a success.
“After that it snowballed, and the demographic is huge. I’m amazed when we run the mixed tours, people as young as 21 and as old as their 70s, women on their hen dos come. What they like and drink is different but they have a great experience.”
One of the unsung advantages of expanding breweries is the ancillary industries that spring up and benefit also from this growth.
“It’s an industry that gives great opportunities and jobs within the industry, but it goes a lot further than that,” Donohoe said.
“It’s an industry that supports community, provides jobs and a second layer of jobs, the tradies and suppliers too.
“For the secondary industries like myself and food trucks, it has created a huge opportunity, and we don’t often think about the benefits having more breweries and more people drinking beer brings.”
Hear more from Josh Donohoue on the Beer is a Conversation podcast.